Vincenzo Esposito in Italy, Delaney Rudd in France, Tony Dawson in Germany, Oded Katash in Israel: All were top scorers in their respective leagues, leading the rankings with 25 or more points per game. Brad Oleson, Steven Smith, Rashad Anderson: These are our top scorers, nowadays. How many are they scoring? Not more than 21 points per game. (And that’s going to fall…) So what has happened across Europe over the last 10-15 years? Why, in a game that has itself evolved itself into one of increasing total scores, show, and thus its level of fan interest all over the world, do the top offensive players score much less? Let’s take a look at how our basketball has changed, following this decadent scoring line. The following is a list of a few changes.
Defense has improved. Every team has a huge number of defensive solutions. Coaches have developed their knowledge on man-to-man, matchups, box and one, press defenses. Even more, scouting reports have so much helped those who once knew only their enemy’s names. We still underestimate the power of Internet: Here can be found a detailed view (profile, stats, biography) of whoever you want, at any moment, in each place. Nevertheless, basketball societies have grown by size and ambition (from the lowest to the highest levels), with budget and people involved in scouting rising in the same way. Fifteen years ago, when you played against KK Split, it was always the same story: “Hey, they’re Croatian: They play hard and have a noisy crowd supporting them. Don’t be intimidated!” Today, by the time you land at the airport, you already know whether Mario Delas prefers to finish with right or left hand. Thanks to technology, go back to the start: Defense has improved.
US players aren’t as talented as in previous generations. True or false? I answer with a comparison: In 1995, the best newcomer from the United States was Dominique Wilkins (9th all-time NBA scorer); in 2008, the best is Josh Childress (one NBA playoff appearance in his career). Is this enough? Here’s another example. Since 1995, we here in Italy have had the pleasure of seeing Jermaine Jackson, Eddie Gill, Gerard King, Gary Trent, Erick Murdock, AJ Guyton, Shawn Respert, and Derrick Dial. I looked at them as “champions coming from the NBA,” but I still didn’t know that, when he was my age, my father could see Bob McAdoo, Bob Morse, Bill Bradley and Michael “Sugar” Ray Richardson. And I was only a child when Darren Daye, Mike Mitchell and Rolando Blackman charmed the stands. There’s really no contest.
Average quality has improved. Today, any team you face has at least eight men able to play at the appropriate level. When one of the starting five is called to the bench, his substitute is sometimes even better. (Don’t you know Kaukenas’ role?) That’s the reason why a top scorer can’t relax when the second team is in. This depends on the Bosman Rules that have broken down previous walls about player circulation in Europe, but it also depends also on a higher level of European schooling, because it’s not merely all about whether Greece or Spain forces Team USA to do the best they can to win an Olympic medal. More competition = better schools to create good players and protect your the lads of your country from foreign invasions = better players.
The 24 second clock. Less time to score, more action. More shots to distribute. No more of the man who freezes for his teammates to admire.
Length of the season. A Euroleague (or Eurocup) team plays 60 games a year, including the regular season and playoffs. So you must preserve your best players from fatigue. Are you happier if he scores 35 points against Bruesa in November or 25 against Unicaja in May?
These are some reasons that I consider to be a starting point for discussion about the lack of great scorers in Europe today. While we’re certainly seeing better basketball, at this moment, technical staffs and tactical solutions are deciding the games. I sigh a little, and then I get out my DVD of Steve Burtt Sr. and his 40-point performances. Unbelievable!
written by Francesco Cappelletti